There has been much to admire about Monaco’s season, which leads them into the final week of the campaign with an outside chance of winning Ligue 1 when it concludes on Sunday, but with a realistic chance of claiming Coupe de France glory against Paris Saint-Germain in Wednesday’s final.
After all, Niko Kovac’s side have already defeated PSG twice this season. There was the brilliant come-from-behind success last November, in which they trailed 2-0, before an impressive victory at Parc des Princes in February.
It is the first truly coherent term that Monaco have put together since winning Ligue 1 during 2016-17, guided smartly by former Bayern Munich boss Niko Kovac, who arrived in France’s south last summer something of a joke after his dire performance at the Allianz Arena a matter of months earlier.
The eye-catching 3-2-4-1 system that Monaco employ is the subject of much curiosity, while the goal-scoring exploits of Wissam Ben Yedder and Kevin Volland in attack have received much adulation.
However, their success has been founded upon the awesome efforts of central midfielders Youssouf Fofana and Aurelien Tchouameni.
Tchouameni, particularly, has been titanic as the team’s destructive presence.
The 21-year-old midfielder, who finished 20th in Goal’s NxGn ranking in 2019, is more than living up to his reputation and has played with such aplomb that now Europe’s very biggest clubs are starting to take note.
Chelsea are most notably interested in his services, and little wonder given the midfielder offers a strong multi-faceted presence in the heart of the team.
Tchouameni arrived in Monaco in the January transfer window of 2020 for a fee around the €18 million (£15.5m/$22m) mark.Getty/Goal
He was used sparingly in what was a tumultuous season for the Monegasques, ended prematurely by the Covid-19 pandemic.
When play was shut down in mid-March, Tchouameni had played three of the possible seven Ligue 1 games for his new side, none as a starter, and yet managed to get himself booked in each of these appearances.
Kovac’s arrival, however, has offered a fresh opportunity for the 21-year-old. Indeed, he has started 35 of Monaco’s 37 league matches this season, with the two he sat out due to suspension. Moreover, he has chipped in with a couple of goals and four assists.
His value has grown too. Tchouameni is expected to fetch around €40m (£34m/$49m) if he leaves Stade Louis II over the summer.
“It’s in large part to him that we’re here today,” Tchouameni said of Kovac early in May, praising the impact of the coach on the team as a whole.
“If I had to sum him up in one word, it would be 'rigour'. He never lets us rest on our laurels. It’s concentration in training and a lot of effort.”
And that has rubbed off the midfielder, whose in-game focus has been excellent and who has built a team around him to analyse each of his performances.
Kovac, meanwhile, is understandably delighted with the progress of the young charge.
“For me, he’s a symbol of our team,” the coach said. “He’s the player who’s improved the most. He works hard and does whatever it takes.
"If he continues like this, he’ll have a great career. He understands what’s expected of him and respects what he has to do.”Getty/Goal
Tchouameni, after all, is given a great deal of responsibility in this Monaco side. While he is expected to protect the defence and win the ball back, he is the member of the midfield tandem that is given the freedom to attack when required.
“He fits perfectly with what Monaco do,” France Under-21 boss Sylvain Ripoll explained. “He reads the play well on the field and gives energy to his side.
“His tactical understanding is higher than average. He tries to understand the game, and when you combine that with his athleticism and his way of coming out of defence...
“He’s taken on another dimension this season, especially in his use of the ball. All his levels are up, but there has been a big change there. In addition to the athletic work he does, he’s a monster that hurts the opponent and springs forward when required.”
Meanwhile, the more pivotal game for Tchouameni’s future this week is the one less likely to bring Monaco glory.
The Coupe de France is on the line on Wednesday against PSG, but victory over Lens on Sunday will secure Champions League football for next season – and potentially another year of Tchouameni at the club.